Questioning the very definition of science? You’re not alone, and we’re here to help

Questioning the very definition of science? You’re not alone, and we’re here to help

The national discourse these days might have you questioning the very definition of the word “science.”

That being said, it is important to understand the process of science and how it is fluid through time, ever-changing with the discovery of new information that potentially alters our consensus of what is known. 

At Headwaters Science Institute, we’re aiming to bring greater understanding to the conversation around what science is and how it affects the course of our lives. 

So, what is science?

To create a foundational understanding, science is the process of observation and experimentation to uncover insights about the natural world. When you Google “science” there are two definitions, 1. science is a systematic process of observation and experimentation, and 2. A body of knowledge pertaining to a subject. It is important to acknowledge that science is not either/or one of these definitions.

Generally, however, people typically associate the term science with this second definition.

Biology, for example, is defined as the body of knowledge about living organisms. But biology is really the process of generating these insights about living organisms and their vital processes. This is then communicated as a body of knowledge. It’s the combination of both definitions.

Science is not a collection of “facts”

Much of society has been taught that there is “science” and the “scientific method,” but in reality, they are intertwined. I fell victim to this when attending public school growing up. Our teachers taught science in a way that disconnected the process in which the body of knowledge is generated from reading the conclusions of the process, i.e. the textbook.

To me, it gave the perception that science is just a collection of facts that I can read in a textbook and then move on. But in reality, science is ever-changing, full of constant debate over what has been discovered in the past and exploring the fringes of what we currently understand about the natural world.

If you are in high school reading a biology textbook, the information you are reading is not the extent of what we know today and may not reflect the most up-to-date scientific consensus. Scientists are constantly developing new methodologies, challenging previous findings, and questioning authority to progress the field as a whole.

This can at times mean declaring studies to be invalid or insignificant. This isn’t always because the experimentation was done poorly or results being irreproducible, but because as time progresses, new methods can supply a more informed conclusion to determine a study invalid. 

Science is a life-long journey of learning

A perfect example of this, is the Biological Species Concept.

Simply put, it determines a species to be a group of organisms that are able to interbreed and produce viable offspring. This concept is still taught in schools across the country, but it is not supported anymore by contemporary biologists. In fact, this is still a widely debated topic as defining what a species is impacts how we conduct the field of taxonomy and study evolution.

Science is a life-long journey of learning, observation, and experimentation to close the gap of what is known and unknown about the world around us. It helps us make informed decisions, which are driven by data rather than our behavior or biases. Hopefully, as you continue to follow Headwaters Science Institute, you will obtain a new understanding, perspective, and appreciation of science.

Daniel Dudek

Daniel Dudek

Programs

Summer Research Experience Student Presentations

Summer Research Experience Student Presentations

As our summer research experience comes to an end, the students are preparing the final pieces of their research projects. Over the past couple of months, these students have designed their own projects, conducted research, and analyzed their findings. With the help of some expert science mentors, students tackled topics ranging from algal blooms to COVID-19 in wastewater and invasive species around trails to recycled water and plant growth.

Now that their research and analysis is done, the next step is for students to present their findings! One aspect of this is modeling the work of a professional scientist by creating journal articles they submit to the Headwaters Research Journal or other scientific journals for publication consideration. And the main event is this week on August 17, 18, and 19, when students will be taking to the virtual stage to present their research!

August 17, 18, and 19, 2021 – 5:30 PM (Pacific)

Join us live on YouTube and Facebook each night to watch all the presentations!

YouTube: https://tinyurl.com/hn6r6mms
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HeadwatersScienceInstitute

Join us for three exciting nights of learning about our student research projects, and meet the mentors that guided our students along the way!

And if you know any students who would be interested in our fall research experience, applications are now open at: https://headwatersscienceinstitute.org/science-camp/digital-research-program/

Full Schedule

Tuesday, August 17 

5:30 Aidan Peterson, Forest Charter School – Ski resort impact on tree health 

5:40 Richard Zhang, The Harker School – Analyzing multiple factors on the chlorophyll-a and oxygen concentrations of San Francisco Bay

5:50 Ryan Bell, Tamalpais High School – What factors facilitate the growth of harmful algal blooms in Marin County lagoons?

6:00 Claudia Fan, The Athenian School – Correlation between precipitation and wildfires in California

6:10 Caitlin Capitolo, The Branson School – California droughts through the lens of Coho Salmon migration

6:20 Lauren Holm, Los Altos High School – COVID-19 vaccines and SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater

6:30 Ashley Hung (Palo Alto School) and Michelle Liu (The Harker School) – Assessment of impact of construction on PM 2.5 levels in relation to income level of housing units 

Wednesday, August 18

5:30 Zach Rosen, Berkeley High School – Climate impacts on wildfires in California

5:40 Cas Salamon, Sierra Canyon School and Fusion Academy – Comparisons of extinct and extant fish morphology

5:50 Jia Qi, Montgomery High School – Sleep quality and anxiety levels

6:00 Rose Dalager, Mill Valley – How does human impact affect the water quality at Webber Lake?

6:10 Amy White, Gunn High School – What effect does human population have on condor population over time?

6:20 Nithya Sunko, San Marin High School – How does recycled water affect plant growth?

6:30 Nicole Stavrakos, Los Altos High School – Viruses

6:40 Will Franklin, Sugar Bowl Academy

Thursday, August 19

5:30 Annette Lu, Olympia High School – Latitudinal diversity gradient and fungi

5:40 Farida Abd el hak, Los Altos High School – How do walking trails impact the introduction of invasive species?

5:50 Claire Xu, Gunn High School – Effect of human activity on soil quality at Foothills Park

6:00 Medha Rajagopalan, Los Altos High School

6:10 Cayden Liu, Jakarta Intercultural School – What type of milk promotes faster seed germination?